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Mississippi officials oppose plan to house migrant children at old Harrah's Tunica hotels

Mississippi officials oppose plan to house migrant children at old Harrah's Tunica hotels


Mississippi officials oppose plan to house migrant children at old Harrah's Tunica hotels

TUNICA, Miss. (AP) — Local officials won't support a proposal to house unaccompanied migrant children at two former casino hotels in northwest Mississippi.

The Tunica County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Thursday against issuing a letter of support after opposition from Mississippi's Republican state officials and the local sheriff, local news outlets reported.

Shantrell Nicks is an attorney working for a company called Rapid Deployment, which wants to reuse the vacant hotels. She said during the meeting a letter of support from the county would have been an important part of the company’s proposal to the federal government. WHBQ-TV reported that proposal is due Monday, although it's unclear what happens now.

Nicks told people attending the meeting that the facility would hold up to 250 children aged 17 and younger, not the 2,000 previously discussed, WREG-TV reported.

She said that the facility would hire local employees and operate up to five years, that there would be no visitors, and that the children and teens would stay contained inside.

“There’s no strain to the local government as a result of this temporary children’s shelter,” Nicks said. “We are not going to attempt to enroll these children in local schools."

The hotels were part of the Harrah’s casino complex, which closed in 2014. The casino was demolished, and other proposals to reuse the hotels have not succeeded.

Supervisors took the vote after again debating the plan in a closed session. Both of Mississippi's U.S. senators as well as a number of other Republican officials had opposed the plan.

“Many of my constituents had raised concerns about this project’s impact on the community," U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker said in a statement Friday. “It was clear that Tunica County’s health care, transportation, and other services were not prepared for this sudden influx. I am glad this decision has been halted for now, but I am still worried about a similar proposal in the future.”

Wicker send a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday opposing the plan.

Tunica County Sheriff K.C. Hamp said earlier that the county doesn’t have resources, including a hospital, to care for immigrants, and they would have to be taken to neighboring communities. Some other local officials said they preferred efforts to redevelop the complex to enhance tourism and gambling in Tunica County.

Harrah’s opened in 1996 as the Grand Casino and was conceived on a grand scale, topping out with 1,356 hotel rooms across three buildings. Its now-demolished casino floor was the largest between New Jersey and Las Vegas.

Tunica’s casino market has been in decline for more than a decade, While it was once the nearest gambling destination to parts of the South and Midwest, most of those states now have their own casinos. A casino in West Memphis, Arkansas, has also lured away patrons.